A recurring set of personal struggles that touch upon who I am ethnically prompts a meditation on these two Roman words, which lie at the roots of the Hispanic identity.
Hispania because the common characteristics of all who are imbued with this identity are linked in some way to the peoples, the peninsula and the variegated parlance of Spain. Historia because hispanidad (or "Hispanicity") is a collective story that goes as far back as the caves of Altamira.
Let's dwell on these two thoughts.
Although both these words are in Latin, the people themselves are not really "Latin" or Latino, as dubbed by the American newspapers whose ranks of reporters are kept well shy of any proportional number of people who could be identified as such.
President Bush Sr.'s vice president, Dan Quayle, was hilariously wrong, of course: speaking Latin would not really help in Latin America. Indeed, Hispanic America is Latin America only to the usurpers of the name America, the Anglo-Americans and those who have subsumed their own very different identities into that of the Anglos. To them, any other part of the continent named America long before the first Englishman set sail westward, must be "Something-else America" ... 'cuz we all know 'murrica is the USA, right?
So, no. Hispanics.
Of course, this does not mean that Hispanics are Spaniards from Madrid. Just look at us. Hispanic skin comes in a veritable ice-cream bazaar's palette of hues, from the pale pink called "white," to various shades of brown through the sepia "yellow." However, the commonality goes back to Hispania, itself another mosaic including the Celts from Galicia, the Lusitanians or Portuguese, the Basques and Catalonians, in addition to the Baetic, or central, Spaniards, whose Castillian tongue is the third most widely spoken language in the world, behind Chinese and Hindi.
At the heart of the story of Hispanics is the dazzling historical intermingling of Africans, Asians and Europeans -- a development that was never again matched -- in the world's first empire upon which the sun never set. In America -- the small U.S. of A. America of the Anglos -- such a thing remains what Martin Luther King, Jr., called a "dream," but what many in power today regard a nightmare.
The history of Hispania suggests that the peninsula's people were uniquely prepared to carry out the first global fusion of the long parted branches of the human family. Hispania was always a crossroads and a shelter, beginning with the first post-Neanderthal humans who had reached Europe from the steppes of Central Asia and sought refuge from the last ice age in the mountainous peninsula, in whose caves they left some of the world's oldest art works. Celts, Phoenicians, Israelites, Egyptians and Carthaginians followed, then the Romans, Visigoths and Moors. (Incidentally, the first Arab Muslim attack on a Western society took place in Spain.) Finally, under the Hapsburg dynasty, Hispania set sail around the world all the way to islands named after King Philip II, the Philippines.
There are, to be sure, shameful episodes as well as heroic and noble in this lengthy Historia. No Spaniard relishes a return of the Inquisition (although they know that it started in France). No Hispanic today wears the expulsion of Jews as a badge of pride (although we know that England preceeded Spain in the very same legislation and policy by two centuries). Colonization, the process named after the adoptive Spaniard Cristóbal Colón, involved tragedy and irretrievable loss (although without the deep ethnic strife that every single former English colony has known even in recent memory).
Why does all this matter? After all, ethnicity is not an inherent trait. Even Osama bin Laden was human and male before he was Arab and Muslim. Ethnicity is one of many sets of identities available to us. Incidentally, this term "identity," which we use to distinguish ourselves from one another, comes from the Latin idem, "the same"; all of which means that we set ourselves apart from some when we find commonality with others.
Yet living in the USA, as a USA-American, the paradox seem lost to the society around me. I keep witnessing the Orwellian erasure of my distinctive people and their history, as if Hispanics were cultural blank slates and counted for nothing.
(This post is retroactively part of Julie Pippert's Hump Day Hmm and BlogRhet's "Let's Talk About Race, Baby" week long initiative.)